6 “And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’
This parable is about Israel represented as the barren fig tree. The fig tree was given another year to produce fruit before it was cut down. The nation of Israel was in a season where God’s judgement had been delayed. And so, Jesus calls them to repent, to bear fruit before God sends his judgement upon them.
Jesus’ warning in this parable clearly applies to us as well. In the parable, clearly the owner of the vineyard is God. The keeper of the vineyard is Jesus, the trees in the vineyard represent you and I.
What spiritual principles does this parable teach us?
1. God place us in a privileged position
As God’s chosen people, we are blessed with many advantages and in a privileged position. V6 ” A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.”
This fig tree enjoyed certain advantages not possessed by other fig trees. Many fig trees grew along the roadsides. They were wild. No one cared for them. They had to survive in rocky, shallow soil. But this fig tree was different. It was purposely planted in a vineyard. The tree was protected. The vineyard was enclosed round by a hedge of fence to keep off the wild animals. It enjoyed better soil. The vineyard keeper watched over it and took care of it.
Similarly, as God ‘s chosen people, we are in a favoured position. God has lavished special care on us. He has taken special effort with us and planted us in his vineyard, the church. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We have the Word of God in abundance. Video sermons, seminars and teachings are widely available. We have also pastors and leaders who love us and invest their lives to teach and disciple us to grow and to bear good fruit. We are in a privileged position.
2. God is seeking fruit
V6: “… and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.” God rightly expects fruit from those whom he richly blesses. We have been planted in his vineyard and the owner has invested so much in us, surely, he also expects fruit? But yet the fig tree in this parable had only leaves, no fruit after three years.
Israel was very religious. It had “lots of leaves”. Religion was the heart of Israel. Attendance to the temple services in Jerusalem was required. The people followed the laws to the dots but yet have no personal relationship with God. They had no fruit and so they were cut down.
God is looking for fruit in our lives not leaves. Leaves of crying “Lord, Lord” will not be enough. Leaves of merely attending church service will not do. God is looking for the fruit of repentance. Real and visible spiritual fruit is necessary because our Lord Jesus demands of it in John 15:
2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
The fruit in our life will show what kind of person we really are. If Jesus has truly touched our life, it will show in the fruit we bear. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruit produced in us by the Holy Spirit “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the qualities or characters of a Christian.
Colossians 1:10 “to live a life worthy of the Lord, and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” Christian character will produce Christian conduct. The Holy Spirit in us will produce good work in our lives, pleasing to the Lord.
3. God is patient and merciful.
V7 “Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any.” V8 “Let it alone, sir, for this year too.
It takes a fig tree three years to mature and bear fruit. The owners do not usually look for fruit in the first three years. If the fig tree is not producing fruit by the fourth or fifth years, it likely never will and so it can be cut down. So, in this parable, the tree deserves to be destroyed. This fig tree had already been given twice the allotted number of years it takes to produce fruit. The owner of the vineyard had allowed three more years to pass after maturity in fruitless expectation.
But the good news is that God is merciful and patient. The keeper of the vineyard asked for another year, another opportunity for the tree to amend its ways. Let it alone for one more year! This is a picture of God’s great love and patience.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
In his own mercy, God often withholds his judgment and allows time for repentance. He is patient but the patience of God should never be confused with laxness or indifference on his part.
4. God spares no effort to redeem us
V8-9 “Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in manure; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.”
Because of the hard soil, the fig tree is not producing fruit. Similarly, the reason why our lives are not bearing fruit is because our hearts may be hardened. Our hearts may be hardened because somebody or something has hurt or disappointed us, making us bitter and our heart becoming cold towards God.
God will not give up on us. He gives us additional grace and time. He will dig around us and fertilize us. Some of the challenges and difficulties in our lives that we don’t understand is because the Holy Spirit is digging around our heart. The Holy Spirit is creating challenges to soften our heart and enable our heart in a posture to be capable to receive from God.
The Lord will also introduce some fertilisers and dungs into our lives. These are testing that we don’t like and if given a choice, we will not want it! I can look back at the seasons and time when some things happened and I do not like it. But now I know that though I don’t like it then but it has helped me to grow. That dung or testing has turned my life around. And I thank God for digging around my hard heart to soften it and adding the fertilizer and nutrients into my life so that I can continue to grow and bear fruit.
The parable of the barren fig tree reminds us that we are in a privileged position and God is seeking fruit in us. I thank God that our brothers and sisters here in ROLC are bearing good fruit.
God is also merciful and patient with us. He spares no effort to redeem us. This new year is a good time to rededicate ourselves to God. Thank God for another year of grace. Allow the Holy Spirit to dig around us, soften any hardness and let Him put in the fertilizer. Allow God to prune us so that we will bear more fruit and much fruit in our lives.